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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

Beavers and Dams

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Beavers became a commodity and fashion product. They were heavily trapped and numbers were greatly reduced. They brought business trade to what became Michigan. In prior centuries native people used the resource as part of a sustainable livelihood. The European beaver trapping industry became a boom and bust business. One might wonder how beavers change nature niches.

Beavers weigh 30-50 pounds and are the largest rodent in the area. Their natural history provides benefits but sometimes they are troublesome neighbors.

At the local Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), a family of beavers moved into the outlet of Spring Lake in 1970s. They are better dam builders than most of us could hope to become. One wonders how a particular dam site is selected. Narrow sections of Spring Creek were ignored and a dam over two hundred feet long was constructed near the outlet of Spring Lake. It required lots of work but was successful. Two smaller dams were constructed down stream to create additional flood ponds.

Elevated pond water allowed beavers to swim to the upland shore for aspen trees without going far from shore. It is safer to stay in water. Water access to trees reduces danger from predators and makes it easier to move wood. That is the reason people used rivers to float logs to sawmills during the boom and bust era of Michigan logging. Current forestry practices encourage sustainable logging instead of boom and bust cycles. That practice helps maintain a sustainable community economy.

Beavers topple trees and gnaw branches for underwater storage. They eat meals as needed all summer but branches are hauled to flood ponds and stuck in mud that accumulates behind the dam. Branches provide food during the long winter when timber harvest is not possible.

A domed beaver lodge with an underwater entrance is constructed in the beaver pond. Beavers enter and come above water level to dry living quarters with no easy predator access. A family of beavers can live cozy and exit as needed during winter months to raid their refrigerator. They retrieve branches stored in the mud and feed on nutritious bark. Remaining inner wood is used for construction or discarded like we discard chicken bones or corncobs.

Beavers move to new areas after a few years when they have eaten themselves out of house and home. Their temporary residence activities provide valuable services. The area behind the dam traps sediments and reduces debris and soil in downstream areas. This helps some animals that need clear flowing water and also those that need ponds. Water flowing over dams picks up additional oxygen essential for fish and insects. Fishing generally improves but pond water can warm streams. Various plants are able to colonize the wetlands behind the dam. Willows and alders are colonizing shrubs. In such areas, animals like the Alder Flycatcher and the Acadian Hairstreak find living good.

A great many creatures benefit from the temporary residence of a beaver family. Beavers move in and move out but leave a life giving legacy for others that last for decades. We most notice water that floods roads or drowns trees we might desire survive. Beavers do not recognize our legal title to property so we remove them when their activities do not meet our approval.

Beaver benefits include raising water tables that keep wells flowing. They provide habitat for many wildlife like fish, ducks, and deer and many less noticed animals. During spring high water dams help reduce spring flooding along rivers and it is then when beavers search real estate for new homes and food. Maybe one will come your way and bring activities that improve nature niches in your area.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.

 

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From Pond to River

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Water flows from high to low areas and over time it shortens its path. Tadpole Pond, at Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), is higher than Chrishaven Lake, Spring Lake, Spring Creek, and Rogue River. The route water takes from Tadpole Pond to the Rogue River has a “youthful” geology.

Surrounding Tadpole Pond, rain and snowmelt drains a small area of higher ground to feed the pond. The pond was dredged deeper before becoming HCNC. The dredging cut deeper below the water table and allowed water to enter the pond from surrounding groundwater. This created a permanent shallow pond. An earth dam was constructed at the east end of the pond, with an overflow drain installed under Nature’s Habitats Trail leading toward Chrishaven Lake.

From the pond, water flows east into a boggy swamp that fills a glacial kettle lake basin formed 8000 years ago. A large block of ice left by a retreating glacier was buried and slowly melted. The melt water filled the resulting lake depression. Chrishaven Lake has been shrinking in size as vegetation gradually fills from shorelines.

Chrishaven Lake Boardwalk begins at the edge of an ancient 8000 year old shoreline and makes its way to the current open water of the lake. We cannot see open water from the ancient shoreline where the boardwalk begins. Water from Tadpole Pond makes its way through the swamp, enters the lake, and exits eastward through what was once part of the open water lake. Water continues flowing eastward saturating swampland forest where open water was once present. A small stream channel flows from the lake and crosses Nature’s Habitats Trail where a boardwalk leads through the lowland near the Swamp Shelter building.

View of the creek is lost as it merges into a large wetland forest on it way to Spring Lake. At one time Chrishaven Lake and Spring Lake may have been connected with open water. When water reaches Spring Lake, it no longer continues eastward. Spring Creek coming from north of 20 Mile Road enters Spring Lake and flows out its southwest corner. Upstream from the lake, Spring Creek is small. Where it exits the lake, the stream is about 30 feet wide because additional water feeds the creek from springs in the lake.

The east flowing water from Tadpole Pond turns westward and flows south of Chrishaven Lake and Tadpole Pond on its way west to the Rogue River. Given time, the water will flow directly west to the Rogue River from Tadpole Pond. Water takes the least resistant route. The current landscape is geologically known as youthful because water flow does not all converge directly toward Rogue River but follows an erratic path.

Given time, water will carry land away particle by particle to create a channel directly from Tadpole Pond to Rogue River. We will not live thousands of years to witness landscape changes that develop a mature river system and then an old geologic river system. Details of change from geologic youth to mature, and old age river systems will need to wait for another time.

During our lives, enjoy varied nature niches at HCNC that have developed along a youthful water course that flows east from Tadpole Pond to Spring Lake and turns 180 degrees to flow west to Rogue River. Dramatically different nature niches enhance biodiversity along the meandering watercourse. Visit HCNC and purchase an individual or family membership at the Red Pine Interpretive Center. HCNC has perhaps wildest and most diverse habitat variety of any designated nature study areas in Kent County.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.

 

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Living With The Land

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Some people live off the land. Stories in this column are from one who strives to live with land. We cannot walk and breathe tomorrow, if we do not eat and drink today. It is essential we take from nature but is also essential that we give back to nature, if we hope to thrive in another year, decade, century, or millennium.

We personally will not see another millennium and few will see the next century. Family members in succeeding generations will be able to live healthy lives a thousand years from now, if we responsibly sustain the environment that supports us.

Living off the land might mean taking what we need or want for our interests. Living with the land does not exclude taking from nature to sustain our families but it does include allowing the land to live and breath in a manner that will provide for the needs of future generations. That defines sustainable in a very practical sense.

This column focuses on aspects of nature niche relationships with wild creatures in our yards, neighborhoods, and region to promote sustainable biodiversity. Each species holds secrets and mysteries. Some species are more essential to our lives than others but all hold a fascination that stimulates our hearts to beat stronger, happier, and with greater purpose when we know them better.

Spring is here. Life is springing forth from the ground, returning from distant winter retreats or maybe from hidden places in neighborhoods. Nature niche stories will help families experience and enjoy wild wonders in the yard. They might assist in bringing nature closer to home, heart, and mind. Simply knowing about nature is not enough. It is essential that our hearts burn with love for the natural world that gives us life.

Nature should not be something that we need to go to. It should be something we draw closer to us by how we manage yards and neighborhoods. Creation is a gift that sustains us so we have responsibility to sustain creation. Many practices in our lives are focused on living off the land instead of living with the land. We cannot hope for a better tomorrow if we fail to maintain Earth’s life giving virtues and products.

We are members of a natural community with other creatures in nature niches that provide food, water, shelter, and appropriate living space. When members of the community are lost they no longer provide services that help your family. We have a vested interest in maintaining all creatures great and small for our own interests and for the interest of our children’s children.

It is equally important to develop emotional relationships through nature walks, photography, venison on the table, trout on the line, butterflies in the garden or birds at the feeder. We each interact with the natural world differently but we all share the common purpose of maintaining biodiversity for a healthy future.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.

 

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Giant Swallowtail

OUT-Nature-niche-SJM-GiantSwallowtail-OdyB13May2012-12-copy-2By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Immobile and vulnerable all winter, the Giant Swallowtail waits. It has many adaptations for survival. During the winter wait, it is too cold to do anything but wait. Enclosed in a chrysalis it transforms from caterpillar to winged jewel. It transforms within its last larval skin during the fall from a full-grown caterpillar to a chrysalis in a hidden location.

Inside the jewel of a chrysalis, body tissues of the caterpillar dissolve to an apparent liquid. Primordial cells actively work to rebuild an adult body through most miraculous changes. Cool or cold weather delay completion of the work for weeks or months. In the more southern states the wait between caterpillar and adult is shortest. Warm weather arrives sooner allowing the transformation process to continue.

In Michigan it is thought that the process never completes and the butterfly freezes to death in the chrysalis before spring arrives. The result is that we have no Giant Swallowtails until some immigrate north to colonize the state with a new population.

I disagree in part with such thoughts. I have seen Giant Swallowtails year after year at Ody Brook where the host plant for the caterpillar is abundant and have found them in repeated years in other patches of Xanthoxylem americanum. In still other patches of the prickly ash, I have been unable to find the butterfly. That led me to the scientific hypothesis that some swallowtails survive in isolated patches to provide an ongoing legacy.

To further support the hypothesis, I discovered that reliable patches containing the butterfly year after year had none after a very cold winter with subzero temperatures. It took a few years before those patches supported the species again. My idea is that it took a few years for immigrants to find populations of the host plant.

When host plants are found by an adult swallowtail, it lays eggs that develop into bird turd looking caterpillars that fed on the leaves. Caterpillars pupate and develop into adults by fall to provide many beauties in landscapes with host plants. Those pupating in fall wait the long winter. Many freeze but a few might survive to maintain a population in isolated patches of prickly ash. This is still not scientifically proven.

To scientific prove my hypothesis, it is necessary to provide evidence that chrysalises survived the winter in the wild. I have not looked for or found supporting evidence. That does not mean they do not survive. It means there is no supporting evidence that some survive winter in this climate. This skeptical process is what makes scientific method so valuable and self-correcting. It dispels unsupported information that we often choose to believe because we want to or because it appears logical.

Through scientific process we learned the sun does not rise in the east and set in the west. Instead we discovered the Earth rotates to provide the illusion of sunrise and sunset.

For now, science supports that Giant Swallowtails do not survive Michigan winters. I expect any Giant Swallowtail chrysalises found this winter will be frozen. Immigrants will be essential if we are to see the species this summer. The winter provided chilling subzero temperatures in local nature niches. Maybe the deep snow covered and protected a few precious winged jewels.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.

 

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Red-winged blackbird arrival

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

OUT-Nature-niche-red-winged-blackbirdEncourage family members to predict the arrival date and first sighting of Red-winged Blackbirds. For decades it has been an annual activity for me. It helps us tune in to nature occurrences. I wait until mid February before making a final hypothesis. The hypothesis is different than a wild guess. I could make a guess in September. Instead I gather available evidence to make an educated guess on an annual basis. My friend Greg and I always try to guess the closest date and hope our own is the most accurate. It is a fun activity.

It is somewhat like predicting weather. Daily variations are going to impact the actual arrival day.

Evidence from previous years indicates early March is usually when they arrive in our area. With evidence from past years, we can make a hypothesis months early. For a more accurate prediction, I like to gather additional information. I look at long-range weather forecast, current snow depth, the amount of frozen water on lakes, and spring progression in plant communities. The final critical piece is determined by when a good south wind will facilitate bird flight. I make a prediction before information on wind direction is available. I once predicted February 28 and hit it right on and have gotten it right on at least one other time. I usually do not hit the date exactly but I am quite close.

It is mid February and already willow tree branches are turning brighter yellow. Silver Maple buds are beginning to swell just a little. This is occurring despite this winter being much colder than usual, snow depth much deeper, and winter storms persisting. The plants are anxious for their seasonal spring work. A few sunny days have warmed tree trunks and branches causing sap to start flowing. This afternoon the first sapsickle has formed on the sugar maple. Time to go sample the sweet taste of spring before the squirrels start licking it.

Frost may still be moving deeper into the ground, but a higher sun and longer days indicate spring is near. Male Red-winged Blackbirds want to claim the most productive breeding habitat available. First arrivals get first dibs. They will choose cattail marshes where they can broadcast claim to breeding territory, with a vocal konk-a-ree and by flashing as much as possible of the red wing patch bordered with yellow.

For 10 to 14 days, males vie for the most desirable territory, before females arrive. Amid male territory challenges, females arrive to compete for ideal nest and feeding habitat, with other females. Females are drab brown flecked with tan for a camouflage appearance. We tend not to notice their stealth arrival without effort.

Beautiful males are loud and stand in open exposed areas that capture our attention more than many bird arrivals. It is always a fun bird to anticipate and to watch changing season signals that help predict arrival most accurately. My prediction for this year’s first arrival is March 7. I need to leave Ody Brook to see the first arrivals. They come here and visit feeders but not until they have first inspected breeding habitats and filled the air with konk-a-ree in favored nature niches.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  

 

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Gradual Metamorphosis

by Ranger Steve Mueller

 

As a child I collected butterflies in fallow farm fields near my home.  I recall rearing large numbers of mourning cloaks and tent caterpillars.  The joy of the metamorphosis was miraculous and butterflies were released to “live and be happy”.  When I collected adults, I recall how difficult it was to kill such splendid creatures in my killing jar. Collecting allowed me to study details that were otherwise not possible. More than once I released specimens too near death to ever recover completely.  That may have been improper treatment for those poor individuals but a child has a unique view and understanding of life.

All too rapidly the fallow farm fields became housing developments and that angered and disappointed me.  The loss of habitat was crucial in my development as a lepidopterist.  As a seven year old, I recognized human population expansion was squeezing other life off the planet and by age 19 I decided to limit my own family to no more than two children. I developed understanding and reasons for collecting and studying these wonderful creatures whose presence declined proportionally with development and human population growth.

In addition to observing life histories, my efforts to collect, kill, and classify intensified so I could learn ways to sustain species and life.  I gradually metamorphosed in my understanding for taking the delightful insects from nature. It was essential to study details that help species survive. The research led me to discover distribution of species not known to live in Michigan and Utah. Scientific collecting allowed me to document hundreds of new County records where species were not known to live. Collecting even resulted in the discovery of a new species called the Brilliant Virgin Tiger Moth (Grammia brillians) at my Bryce Canyon National Park research site.

My three-year-old daughter, Jenny Jo, collected with me when young and clearly instructed me to release specimens from the net so they could “live and be happy”.  Thus I saw a new generation of lepidopterist beginning her metamorphosis. I thought her development and collecting efforts might help butterflies “live and be happy”. Now grown, her efforts do not include study of butterflies but she developed a love for life and joy for nature’s biodiversity. She lives conservatively to sustain life on Earth for all species.

Jenny helped me again see the miraculous nature of butterfly existence that a child sees. A three-year-old renewed my efforts to help butterflies “live and be happy” – a thought sometimes difficult for the adult perspective but one we should never lose.

Live a life that conserves nature niches.

Adapted from July 1983 article published in the Lepidopterists’ Society News

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  616-696-1753.

 

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Public Invited to Nature Programs

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

Grand Rapids Audubon and Michigan Botanical Clubs invite the public to enjoy two different free nature programs on February 22 and 24, 2014 presented by Ranger Steve.

Botanizing the Natural World sponsored by the Michigan Botanical Club will be at GVSU Allendale Campus in Niemeyer Hall, Room 148 on Saturday Feb. 22 at 2 p.m.

Program Description: Enjoy the world of plants that surround us throughout the year. Plants are friends that share beauty, mystery, and intrigue, while providing basic needs in ecosystems. Their adaptations help them survive where they stand for a lifetime. Enjoy a fascination with plants as we discover special features that serve their needs and those of other organisms in ecosystems. The program will provide a glimpse of wildflowers, trees, and associated animals we will be able to experience at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary on a Saturday, September 13, 2014 on a field trip at 2 p.m. Bring family and friends for enjoyable pictures and dialog with Ranger Steve this Saturday.

Dorothy Sibley, president of MBC says, “Ranger Steve is a great presenter you won’t want to miss. See you there!” Refreshments will be served following the presentation.

Directions to Niemeyer Hall: Room 148 (Case Room) is on the 1st floor in Niemeyer Hall. If you come to campus on M-45 (Lake Michigan Drive) turn onto campus and follow the road called Campus Drive until you come to a four-way stop. This is Calder Drive. Turn left on Calder Drive and then turn left into parking lot M, where you may park. (Open parking on Saturdays).

The Grand Rapids Audubon Club program is Monday evening Feb. 24th at 7:30 p.m. with 7 p.m. refreshments at Orchard View Church on Leffingwell at 3 Mile Rd. Go 1 mile west from the East Beltline on 3 mile Rd. and left on Leffingwell. The church parking is on the right at the corner.

Program Title and Description:

Birds and Life at Ody Brook Sanctuary:

Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary in Cedar Springs is managed to enhance biodiversity. Discover the variety of life that could thrive in your yard when extensive lawns are limited in size and replaced with native plants that support bird and other animal populations. The sanctuary is located in the headwaters for Little Cedar Creek with both upland and wetland habitats. Over 100 bird, 24 mammal, 11 herps, 51 butterfly species have been documented along with nearly 250 species of plants and many other species.

Five acres were added to the sanctuary in 2011 to further protect the floodplain. Nature trails meander the property with bridges over the creek. Ponds, stream, field and forest comprise the splendor. Brook trout enter the sanctuary in spring. Green Herons, Wood Ducks, American Woodcocks, three species of owls, Pileated Woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebirds, Gray Catbirds, Blue-winged Warblers, Eastern Towhees, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks attest to habitat variety. Many Orders of insects thrive and create conditions suitable for bird abundance. Natural history of birds, flowers, trees, and insects will highlight the abundance of life that comprises local biodiversity.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.  

 

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Southern Flying Squirrels

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

 

My oldest daughter and I ventured into the night when we were on our way somewhere. She asked, “What’s making that sound?” We listened and heard a chipping nearby but could not see what was making the sound. The outside light was on but revealed no birds or other animals.

We used our ears to locate the sound. It was coming from near the bird feeder but nothing was there. We moved closer and the sound was definitely coming from the feeder with no animals on it. I lifted to cover to see what might be inside and out “flew” three Southern Flying Squirrels. Not only were the squirrels surprised, so were we when life exploded from inside the feeder.

The flying squirrels do not actually fly. They glide on parachute skin flaps that stretch between fore and hind legs. They also have a flattened tail that helps with buoyancy in the air and aids as a rudder. Large bulgy eyes help in the deep darkness of night. These small mammals are truly nocturnal and are seen only in daylight when disturbed from a shelter cavity.

They depend on dead hollow trees for survival. Food, water, and a few acres of appropriate living space are necessary. Without cavities for shelter they do not do well. People often want to “clean up” yards of dead standing trees. I suggest leaving dead trees stand unless they are in a location that may result in injury to people or damage to the house when they fall.

As director at Howard Christensen Nature Center (HCNC), I removed dead trees near trails where they could present a danger. I have recommended current HCNC landscape managers to allow most dead trees to stand. People have a tendency to want them for burning in fireplaces or woodstoves. It is usually better to take live trees that are crowded too close together. Thin live trees instead of taking dead ones. The remaining live trees will grow healthier with more vigor in a thinned forest. After cut trees are aged for months to a year, they make better firewood than do dead trees. Dead trees lose substance with time and provide less heating capacity.

It is not just squirrels that need dead trees for survival. There are many species of mammals, birds, and insects that need the shelter gained from dead trees. A forest is not healthy without a large number of standing dead trees. During the extreme cold we have been experiencing, bluebirds huddle together in hollow tree cavities to survive the night. Northern Flying Squirrels are more common in the Upper Peninsula but could possibly get this far south. To tell them apart one would probably need to have them in hand to examine the color of hair bases.

There are many living things, like Southern Flying Squirrels, that are never or seldom seen. Life abounds at HCNC and Ody Brook because dead wood is allowed to stand. Your yard can support a great amount of life when managed well. Life in nature niches depends on a healthy supply of the dead.

Think food, water, shelter and appropriate living space. Provide conditions that allow nature to provide the food, water, and shelter. You can supplement with birdseed, nest boxes, and birdbaths but the main source of life support should come from what nature provides for free in a well-managed landscape.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. Submitted 7 Feb 2014

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Time and Space

By Ranger Steve Mueller

A clear black sky perforated with brilliant illuminations from countless stars lighted the luge-like chute depression of our snow path during last night’s walk. Crisp snow squeaked under foot in the -9 degrees Fahrenheit air. No owls called. It was too early for activity. I have not discovered a particular hour Barred Owls select to call. They seem to call earlier in the evening than the Great Horned Owl. Horned owls schedule hoots for midnight and again at 5:30 a.m. in mid winter.

The New Year is an exciting time for emergence and rebirth of one’s spirit from the womb of the year. Old memories are lost in recesses of the mind and only resurface when triggered by smells, sights, sounds, tastes, or touches that draw them forth. The Pleiades star constellation is a distant friend that looks like the Big Dipper removed so far in space that it looks like a dipper that has lost size. The depth of the dark night reveals the immense size of surroundings.

It is only with thought that we penetrate time and space in any real manner. Both are too remote to experience with our physical senses. With our physical senses we enter the natural world to gain access to the spirit of the universe. Physical senses allow us to experience the wonders around us. Then we can contemplate and reflect on the spirit of nature and begin to understand the wonders of birds, plants, mammals, water, insects, and air in the natural world. Our place in the universe is small. The big dipper is perceptively small when compared with its galaxy. The galaxy is minuscule among the billions and billions of galaxies peppering light throughout the grand darkness of space.

Time loses meaning in the distance of space but here on Earth it is real. We share nature niches in a fleeting moment of time and space with other species. For that instant it is the most important moment of life. There is no past and no future at the moment when I see a chickadee, hear its call, or feel its presence as it wings past my hand at the feeder. For that moment we are alone and yet together in the universe at the same time in the same space. The universe has suddenly been reduced in size by my perception and a spiritual bond is created between bird and me.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

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Owl Relationships

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

I wonder about the important relationships.

Sunday morning I stopped at Ody Brook’s road entrance where I saw a dead bird. At first I thought it was a Ruffed Grouse but quickly realized it was a gray phase Eastern Screech Owl. I drove to church.

During silent prayers I prayed for Greg and Cindi in regards to what is appearing to be a terminal cancer for Cindi. Then I prayed for the owl that lost its life and also for its family.

I received a call in January from a man that found a Great Horned Owl dead in the snow.  Upon retrieving the owl, he realized it died a strange death. The owl was flying close to the ground and flew into a grape vine. The vine branched into a V. The owl’s neck got caught and wedged in the V. The owl was hanging limply by the neck. The skin was ripped and the neck broken. I hoped the owl died instantly instead of hanging helplessly wedged by the neck.

Now that it is dead, I wonder about its mate and plans that were made. It is breeding season. Owl pairs have probably found some advantages and some disadvantages to the two plus feet of snow received. The snow surely affected hunting and daily routines. Males are catching prey to present to females. Nest selection and refurbishing has been underway. Territory boundaries have been claimed and posted with vigilant calls and patrols. We heard a Great Horned Owl begin hooting here this week.

What now? Was it the male or female that died? What emotional strain would envelop the remaining owl? January is a hard month without the loss of a mate.

Males offer food and females expect it. Females may have begun egg laying and should be sitting tight to nests waiting for mates to bring nourishment. The forest must sound empty without the nightly hoots of her mate.

Many think that only people experience emotional loss and associated loss of contributory sustenance when a spouse dies. In nature niches, many species help sustain mates, especially during the breeding season. When a mate suddenly disappears without a trace, the emotional strain must be great. No one notifies the family member of what happened. Emotional strain is a combination of chemical and nervous stimulation. Only in a few social species do others comfort and assist the grieving.

Personal survival demands the owl continue valiantly. For the owl, a lone female left to survive will probably continue but her eggs may not hatch. Exposure while she hunts might be too great and the embryos will likely never develop.

Life is hard with emotional traumas. When a bird’s nest is raided, an ant’s food taken, or a person’s body withers from disease, these organisms experience emotion. How we choose to interpret nervous and chemical changes and then define emotion is our choice.

Emotion may be quantified and even dismissed by some scientific standards for some organisms. Perceptive people will recognize what I call many realms of reality. Ants, owls, and people share experiences of living and emotion. We are all of the same DNA.  Our perceptions and emotions are different in degree with links dating back to the beginnings of life.

I wonder about the important relationships.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, Michigan 49319-8433.

 

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